Backyard Chicken Coops Growing in Popularity
It’s a typical, crazy weekday afternoon in your household. You look quickly at your calendar and realize you promised to send in cupcakes the next morning for your child’s class party. You have an extra mix in the pantry and you smile in relief. You start to mix together the ingredients, get the two eggs needed for the recipe and realize you only have one. Wouldn’t it be easy to just go to your backyard and pick up a fresh, newly laid egg? You wouldn’t have to rush to the store or call a neighbor...the eggs would be just steps away from your back door.
Backyard chicken coops are gaining popularity in the U.S. for many reasons, including convenience.
Why Raise Chickens?
There are many benefits of raising chickens and they are not difficult to take care of once you get started. It is also inexpensive compared to most other pets, and you don’t need to live on a farm to do it.
Angela Magney, owner of Gingersnap Hollow Farm in Harlem, Ga., and mother of three, says she began raising chickens in her backyard, which was less than a quarter acre. She started her coop with five chicks when her husband was in Afghanistan in 2009. When he came home, she said she wanted a farm.
It took some convincing but now they have a farm about two miles from their neighborhood home with 700 chickens, lambs, hogs and turkeys. “Don’t let a small backyard deter you. You don’t need much room when you first start raising chickens,” she says.
With the cost of eggs increasing, it is nice to have fresh and nutritious eggs at your fingertips. The chickens are also great natural fertilizers for your yard and also help control bugs and mosquitoes.
Allen Brown, 16, of Augusta, recently began raising chickens in his backyard. He says they are easy to maintain once they get bigger, and they are fun to watch and see how their habits develop.
Raising chicken is also a great way to educate your child about how food gets from “farm to table.”
If you decide that raising chickens in your backyard is something you want to do, the first step is purchasing the chicks. You can buy them at a local feed stores, where they usually carry day-old chicks around spring, according to backyardchickens.com. Locally, the Tractor Supply Company will have all you need to start a coop including chicks and supplies, says Magney. Brown was given an egg that he incubated and then went from there.
A young chick brooder is needed at the beginning. This can be as simple as a cardboard box or small rabbit cage, according to backyardchickens.com. The temperature in the brooder needs to start at 100 degrees the first week and decrease five degrees per week after that. Brown used a warming light to keep his chicks at the correct temperature.
Pine shavings on the ground, food from a local feed store and water should be on your list of necessary supplies.
The early stages of their development is the perfect time to get to know your chicks. Play with them and stay close to them so that they can get to know you. “They like to flock, so starting off with three or four chicks is a good idea,” says Magney.
After the first 60 days, it’s time to build a chicken coop.
When building your coop, backyardchickens.com says a good rule of thumb is to allow two to three square feet per chicken inside the coop and four to five square feet in an outside run. Make sure your coop is safe from predators as well, since neighborhood dogs and other animals can be a threat.
Marci Cannon, an Augusta mother of three, has had a chicken coop in her yard for about five years now. She and her husband, Glen, originally built the chicken coop and as time passed, made some modifications. “The chickens need a nesting box and prefer to share it,” she says. She also has roosting bars where the chickens can be off the ground and away from predators.
Magney suggests building or purchasing a coop that can be moved every other day around your yard. “Chickens will eat the bugs in your yard and will fertilize the yard as they go,” she says.
As for the ground cover in the coop, pine shavings are a good idea. Also, food and water are needed daily.
The Laying of Eggs
After about 16 to 20 weeks, the chickens begin laying eggs. “The chicken does not have to have a rooster to lay an egg,” says Cannon. “This is a big misconception.” They usually lay one egg every 26-28 hours for a cycle of 7-10 days, depending on the amount of daylight and weather. The next cycle starts immediately after this. As they get older, the chickens may take a day or two off and then start again.
“We pick up our eggs every day, wash them and refrigerate them immediately,” says Magney.
Thin, brittle shells can be a problem, but one that is easily solved. “If the eggs seem brittle, you can feed your chickens oyster shells to harden the outside shell of the egg,” according to Cannon.
Backyard eggs come in a multitude of colors, depending on the color of the chicken’s earlobe. There are a few exceptions to this rule including the Americana or Africana breeds. So, if the earlobe is white, the chicken will lay a white egg. Chickens with brown, black or red earlobes will lay a darker egg.
County and Neighborhood Restrictions
Each county has restrictions for non-domestic animals. If you are thinking of starting a chicken coop, you need to research the local city zoning ordinances. Also, if you live in a neighborhood, check your neighborhood covenants for restrictions.
In Richmond County, for example, chickens are not specifically prohibited but zoning ordinances apply. Roosters are not permitted and as for coop restrictions, you need to keep in mind sanitation, proximity, noise, zoning and building restrictions.
In Columbia County, chickens and roosters are allowed and raising chickens (not for commercial purposes) in backyards falls under the nuisance ordinance.
Before you can legally sell your eggs, you are required to take a class offered four times a year in Georgia through the Department of Agriculture. This class will outline the requirements and is mandatory, says Magney.
Magney’s advice for anyone starting a coop is to start small and do it for yourself and your family to see if you would like to pursue it further.
Cannon agrees and says that even though they are fairly easy to raise, chickens are like any pet and still need to be maintained. You need to clean out the coop and make sure the chickens are safe and well fed. She says they truly become part of the family after time. “It is sad when you lose a chicken,” she says. “We have had many chicken funerals.”
With backyard chicken coops gaining in popularity, there are many Web sites, groups and blogs dedicated to this hobby. Your own mini-farm is just a cluck (I mean click) away.
Cammie Jones is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.